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The Prime Minister issued a media release on 17 September 2019 announcing the Government will undertake a Joint Parliamentary Committee of both the House and the Senate to conduct an inquiry into the Family Law system. The inquiry is to be led by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
The inquiry was initially triggered by accusations that the court system as it currently stands is failing vulnerable Australians. One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson has been one of the leading names pressing for the inquiry, arguing that the family law system is too slow and expensive.
The review aims to determine whether the current system adequately supports both the parents and children at the time of a relationship break down. After 12 months the inquiry intends to provide recommendations that will aid parents in resolving end of relationship issues in a simple, quick, and cost-effective manner.
A previous review by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2017 provided recommendations that included abandoning the current Family Court and allowing the states power to judge such cases. However, this proposal was widely discouraged as it did not serve the best interests of the families and would cause further delays in the system. Of the 60 recommendations released by this report, the government is yet to take any action.
Senator Hanson broke into tears at the announcement that the inquiry was to go ahead. Due to the inadequacy of previous inquiries Hanson has mentioned a desire to be co-chair of the committee alongside Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been queried whether this inquiry was part of political negotiations as a means to secure future legislative reform support from Senator Hanson. Morrison has responded to such accusations with a strong testament that the inquiry is only about the children and parents and providing ways to help ease the turbulence of relationship break down.
The delays in the family law system can present detrimental concerns for those families suffering domestic violence. The delays cause increased costs and can create an incentive to settle for outcomes that may not be safe or satisfactory.
As a result, there have been calls for action from family violence advocates who are irritated by the Government’s lack of action on recommendations from previous inquiries. The Chief executive of Women’s Legal Services Queensland, Angela Lynch, has voiced her concern for the safety of women and children in this system.
Lynch told reporters in Canberra that between 50 and 85 percent of family law matters involve domestic violence and we are not able to wait another 12 months to take action. Lynch has proposed a need for specialized family violence courts to be established in order to adequately face these issues.
Family law cases commonly surround issues such as child abuse, drug, and alcohol use, mental health, parenting capacity and neglect, and domestic violence. Perpetrators of such acts can often use tactics of denial in order to minimize or even shift blame. This further enhances the pressing need to take action.
Additionally, inquiries themselves rely on the submissions they receive from a variety of people, including the public. However, due to the often sensitive nature of the family law victims of family violence and those working in the services that support them are not likely to come forward and make a submission. Therefore, it may not be producing a representative sample.
It is hoped the outcome of the inquiry produces meaningful proposals to improve the way issues
resulting from the breakdown of relationships can be dealt with. It is also hoped that such proposals are enacted by the powers that be. Time will tell.
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